GRAND RAPIDS, Mich - It's the only program of its kind in the nation and it's right here in West Michigan.
"Nearly 100 percent of the people who come in to the P.I. Center are homeless.”
Dennis Vankampen calls Mel Trotter, the ministry of second chances.
He said, “We have had men and women who have used the public inebriate center for years.”
But the goal here is to end that cycle.
"Our desire is not that you live this life for a week let alone ten years, but we are always going to be here to help you move into a different life.”
And for some, moving into a different life starts here in the P.I. Unit.
Public inebriates, or P.I’s are brought to the center by police, paramedics, a good Samaritan, or sometimes, they come in on their own. Then, a registered nurse goes to work.
“Not only do they get the medical care they may need, but they also get the opportunity to get a shower, to get a meal, to get new clothing, and frankly, it gives us a chance to get to build a relationship with them to help them change their life.” Vankampen said.
Heather Boevey is one of the registered nurses in charge of doing just that.
She said, “Every single person who comes in here has a story. They're not just an alcoholic, they're not just a homeless person. They are a person with a story and a past. "
Hear one man's story here:
He is now 5 months sober after using the P.I. Unit on and off for about 12 years.
The next step is to get that P.I. connected with a local substance abuse program and then, ultimately, get them a home.
Dennis said, "We need to get people into housing as quickly as possible, we need to provide services for them to get over their addictions and to become functional and productive members of society.”
But as both Dennis and heather will tell you, it’s not always that easy.
For now, the unit only has 11 beds, as well as two separate rooms for female P.I.’s, but last year, those beds were used nearly 5,000 times, saving local hospitals money and keeping P.I's out of hospital rooms.
Denis said, “The benefit for the hospital is that when you have a patient who doesn't have a medical need to be in the hospital, yet they've come in to you have a legal obligation to treat them. What happens is then that takes up a bed for several mandatory hours. That's a bed someone with a real medical concern could be using. “
And while many P.I.’s still go to emergency rooms, Dennis said having an alternative is making a huge difference in the community.
“To have three competing hospitals partner together to fund a program like this…that just doesn't happen."
In fact, according to Dennis, the program has become so effective, it’s gaining national attention.
“We have had other missions from other states as well as right here in Michigan come here to tour, to explore how they can implement a program like this in their city.”
And with the need for programs like this in our area, Dennis said the public can help by humanizing the situation when they come across a P.I. or homeless person.
“It really is a person, its somebody's son, somebody's daughter, or somebody's dad. They were like us once. Most of them lived the same kind of life we live and because of circumstances sometimes because of their choices, oftentimes based on circumstances beyond their control, they're now in a situation they never wanted to be in and never thought they would be.”
Dennis and the nurses said it can be emotionally draining to see people at some of their worst times, but for them it’s all about getting them through to their best.
“We have people who came through P.I. and now they are pastors, they've gone through seminary. We have people who come through P.I. and they are now working for heating and cooling companies and are married with a family, never to return again.”
For more information, you can visit the Mel Trotter website.